Relay for Life a shining moment

All-night trek until sunrise symbolic of the hope of a new day

Cancer survivors gather at the south end of the Free State High School track in preparation for the “Survivor Lap” at the Relay For Life event on Friday. The survivors take the first lap around the track to kick off the all-night relay.

One by one, the lights grew brighter, as each flame was lit on the luminarias honoring those who’ve survived the fight with cancer and remembering those who’ve lost the battle.

The flames shined brightly all night and into the morning at Free State High School, reminding the roughly 700 participants of the Relay for Life of Douglas County what they were walking for.

“You just don’t know what ‘Relay’ is until you’ve been to one,” event co-chair Tina Yates said. “It’s an unending fight for cancer. Cancer doesn’t sleep.”

And neither did the participants in the annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. At least one member from all 79 teams participating in the event had to remain on the track throughout the entire night.

“My mom and my grandmother are the main reasons I relay,” said Lawrence resident Cathy Reid, who has been participating in the Relay for Life for the last 11 years. “My mother, when she was pregnant with me, had cancer, so she calls me her miracle. I come to every relay grateful that my mother went through all she did for me.”

More than 250 cancer survivors helped kick things off Friday by walking in the ceremonial first lap.

Jessie Lanzrath, left, and Baylee Parsons, from Topeka, light luminarias during the Relay For Life event. The luminarias honor people who have fought cancer.

“It’s an honor to say you’re a survivor,” said Dot Johnson, who was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 1994 and lymphoma in 2008. “There’s a lot of love, a lot of courage and a lot of support.”

The final lap wouldn’t take place until more than 10 hours later, as the event ended with closing ceremonies and the final lap at 5:30 this morning.

“They talk about the diagnosis starting early on, and things get darker as you go through treatment,” Yates said. “But then there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, and you make it through and it’s another new day. That’s the symbolic gesture of going all night.”

This year marked the 17th year for the event in Lawrence. It’s the fourth year the relay has been a countywide event. Organizers were hoping to reach their goal of raising $172,000 for the American Cancer Society, and they were also giving something back to the community.

Organizers were hoping to collect more than a ton of canned food items to donate to food pantries throughout Douglas County, as well as canned pet food that would go to the Lawrence Humane Society.

“It’s a great way to give something back to the community that supports the relay so well,” Yates said.